As the Ohio University Bobcats prepare to face the Howard University Bison in football this weekend, it’s also an opportunity to highlight an influential alumnus of both institutions – an African-American Athens native who eventually would contribute to the university’s future in a significant way.
Athens High School graduate Arthur D. Carr, likely born in 1883 (though the date is suspect), was a well-respected physician and landowner who contributed to the construction of Peden Stadium, according to historical records.
Carr graduated from Athens High School in 1902 and probably began attending Ohio University in the fall of that year, according to several articles from The Athens Messenger that were printed during the time. Dr. Carl Denbow, formerly the director of communication in OU’s Heritage College of Osteopathic Medicine (and now retired), provided The NEWS with photo copies of Messenger pages dating back as early as 1897. They immortalize Carr’s life and legacy in Athens.
A brief news article published in 1927 states that Carr was an acclaimed athlete in high school. He also played quarterback for the OU football team in 1903-1904.
Ada Adams, co-author of “A Significant Presence: A Pictorial Glimpse of the Black Experience in Athens County, Ohio,” said Tuesday that Carr is recognized as the first black student athlete to play football at OU. Denbow said there’s reason to believe he may have been the first black quarterback of any predominantly white university football team.
“He certainly was one of the first, if not the first,” Denbow said in an interview last Thursday. That’s pretty significant, especially considering Carr’s contribution to the stadium where today’s Ohio football teams practice and play. Though he couldn’t say for sure, Denbow said he has not been able to find any earlier records of a black quarterback at a white university.
More important than his athletic contributions is Carr’s legacy as a prominent African American in Athens, said Dr. Arthur Cromwell, director of the Public Media program in the School of Media Arts & Studies. Cromwell has done extensive research on Carr.
“Arthur Carr represents, among several African Americans in Athens, someone who was significant” to the community, Cromwell said in an interview last Thursday.
Carr’s parents, Minor “N.J.” and Maria Carr, were members of the Mt. Zion Baptist Church, said Adams who is also vice president of the Mt. Zion Preservation Society. The church served the black community in Athens for decades. Though not all of its attendees were Baptists, Cromwell said, the church served as a gathering place and a physical symbol of the local black community.
After graduating from OU in 1905, where one article suggests he studied business, Carr went on to major in medicine at Howard University, a historically black, private university in Washington D.C., from which he graduated in 1912. He then moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he worked as a physician for nine years.
Copies of the Messenger indicate that Carr had an extremely successful career. One piece published in February 1914 states that Carr “writes his friends here (in Athens) that he is being called into homes where colored physicians have never before gone professionally and has been made medical examiner for two large beneficial organizations in Richmond.”
Another update published in May 1920 states that Carr was elected president of the “association of colored doctors” in Richmond, and adds that Carr was “one of the leading colored practitioners of Richmond,” and that he possessed “many influential friends” within the white and black communities there.
From Richmond, Carr moved on to Washington, D.C., where he lived the remainder of his life. There, he continued his work as a physician and taught at Howard’s Medical School for 45 years. According to obituaries Denbow obtained from OU archivist Bill Kimok, Carr “operated his own hospital” in D.C.
“He’s a hometown boy that made good in some sense,” Cromwell said.
CARR’S FAMILY OWNED PROPERTY in Athens, and Carr went on to own properties in Richmond and Washington, D.C., as well, according to several records. “There are references to the fact that he owned multiple properties in Athens,” Denbow said in an email Monday, “but to the best of my knowledge no one has done exhaustive research in the Courthouse records to track them all down.”
In the phone interview last week, Denbow said that “further research needs to be done” regarding what purposes Carr’s properties served. Cromwell said he believes residential houses once stood on the 4.5 acres of land that Carr supplied to the university in 1928, where the front entrance of Peden Stadium and a portion of the parking lot sit now, though he said he hasn’t been able to find photographic records.
Carr returned to hometown Athens often to visit relatives and friends, and presumably to tend to his properties. One Messenger article states that Carr returned on a yearly basis to visit the graves of his parents after they died. Another reports that Carr attended at least one OU football game in Athens in 1930, likely not the only game he attended in his lifetime.
From what we know, A. D. Carr was a well-respected Athenian who lived a successful life and never forgot his roots. Unfortunately, all we know of Carr and his family is what can be derived from Census documents, marriage licenses, old news articles and not much else.
“As in all historical research, the more you know, the more questions you have,” Denbow said. “But I think what we do know is intriguing.”
Given that both his parents were born in the South at a time when they likely would have been born slaves, Denbow noted, for them “to have come to the North, to have established themselves… and then to have a son go off to medical school—that’s pretty successful.”
Carr died in 1966 at the age of 83, according to an obituary published that year in the Messenger. Carr Hall, built in 2015 on Ohio University’s South Green, was named for him.
OU archivist Kimok said in an email Tuesday that Carr and his parents are said to be buried at West Union Cemetery.